To do this, he and his team must delve into the seedy underbelly of Scotland’s swingers’ scene and a world where women are tricked into the sex business and traded like cattle.
When she’d ask him if anything was wrong, he’d shrug his shoulders, give her a wee smile and say everything was fine. She knew he was lying because his face went even paler, making his freckles stand out as if they’d been drawn in by a kid with a coloured pencil. She never pushed it, maybe because deep down she was worried that he’d tell her he’d met someone else.
The No.76 bus was empty when they clambered on board – one of the benefits of working until eleven at night in a call centre, was that there was no need to scoot past a sea of legs and become a contortionist to get on and off a bus.
Their cold breath filled the air with ghosts as they walked towards Waterstones, Shelley pausing to peek at the new crime fiction releases showcased in the illuminated windows, whilst Stuart fidgeted with his watch. He was always footering about with something since he’d given up cigarettes and it drove her mad, but at least it didn’t fill his lungs with tar and make the house smell like an overflowing ashtray.
“I need to have a pee,” he announced, as they came to the dimly lit lane off Mitchell Street that reeked of eau de Glasgow: decomposing takeaway, urine and other bodily fluids.
She groaned. “Can’t you wait until we get home, Stuart?” She knew she’d pronounced his name “Stew-art” as she always did when she was annoyed with him. She couldn’t help it.
What made men think it was okay to urinate in public?
Stuart looked pained. “Sorry, I can’t. Too much coffee tonight.”
She let him walk on ahead of her and whilst he scooted down the alley, she stood outside the amusement arcade, pretending to look in so she wouldn’t be mistaken for a prostitute. It’d happened to her once when she’d got off the bus alone. Stuart hadn’t been working that night.
Five minutes later, she was so cold she couldn’t feel her nose and Stuart still wasn’t back.
She turned the corner to look for him, fully expecting to see him ambling back towards her with that jaunty walk that always made her smile. He wasn’t there.
Where was he?
Anger welled up in her chest. Had he started smoking again? He swore he wouldn’t.
There was one way to find out.
She headed down the alley. The sole light was provided from some nearby buildings, so visibility was poor.
She’d walked a few steps when she spotted a bundle of rags on the ground. Was someone sleeping there?
She moved closer, squinting into the dim light. Stuart was lying motionless on the ground. He must have tripped and knocked himself out as he hit the concrete.
She ran to him, calling out his name, the squeezing in her chest waning slightly when she knelt and heard him groan.
She pulled her mobile phone from her bag to call for an ambulance.
She didn’t make it to the third digit. A gloved hand clamped across her mouth and nose, cutting off her airways. The phone fell from her grasp, clattering onto the cobbles. Terror gripped her and she couldn’t breathe.
As she struggled, her assailant pressed his mouth to her ear. He was so close that it occurred to her that if anyone saw them, they would think he was her boyfriend whispering sweet nothings in her ear.
“Your man’s been given a strong sedative. He’ll wake up with a sore head and nothing more. If you scream, I’ll kick him several times in the head and he’ll never get up again. Do you understand?”
The voice was cold and emotionless She didn’t recognise it and there was an accent. Not from around here.
She nodded under his hand. Then did something he didn’t expect. Backheeled him in the groin.
There was a satisfying yelp as he released her.
She ran, arms pumping away like Usain Bolt, down towards the café at the end of the alley and safety.
She’d almost made it when he grabbed her arm and hauled her back. An electric shock shot from her elbow to her shoulder as she tried to pull herself free. He was too strong.
He dragged her towards him.
Before she could scream, he punched her in the face and she went down with a thud, jarring every bone in her body, momentarily stunning her.
As she fought to get up, he punched her in the back, and she fell again.
The last thing she saw was the pavement rushing towards her before she blacked out...